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'Sonia Gandhi is an incorrigible moderate'
Sheela Bhatt

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March 21, 2009

Prithviraj Hegde, my colleague and's news editor, dislikes editing reports that give information without naming the source. On ground zero of Indian politics i.e. New Delhi [Images], politicians are driven by three Cs -- Class, Caste and Corruption. All three make them, compulsorily, hypocrites.

Obviously, it goes without saying they can't admit, unless we investigate, what they are doing to exploit their caste and class connection, and how they indulge in corrupt practices. However, most Indian politicians, in off-the-record conversations, on condition of anonymity, do speak and share a lot.

So, with due apology to Prithvi, I can't resist sharing a senior Congress leader's 'off-the-record' conversation. It was a though-provoking meeting and worth putting forward to a larger audience.

The senior Congress leader's main contention is that while his party is stagnating, the Bharatiya Janata Party [Images] too is on a decline. Congress has enjoyed more power in the last five years than compared to emergency rule under late prime minister Indira Gandhi [Images]!

Since, besides the chair of prime minister, the Congress had all major portfolios like Home, Finance, External Affairs, Defence and Commerce, the party ruled like kings, the leader says, adding that the uninterrupted rule had made congressmen arrogant and noisy. Regional party leaders were just sitting on the sidelines without caring about allegations of corruption.

He says, the fundamental issue with Congressmen is that they are living in their past glory. They don't want to change and refuse to take a reality check. They make so many noises when Congress leaders in New Delhi enter into regional alliance, but they do nothing to improve party's position in states.

The fact is that the Congress doesn't have any castes with them in Uttar Pradesh [Images] and Bihar unlike in some other states. Congress has touched the rock bottom because its caste base has collapsed.

Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh [Images] and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi [Images] are the only two leaders who have understood the fact that Congress can't rest upon its past glory and that caste combination will have to be engineered with hard work. To do so, some tough decisions will have to be taken.

 "But, Sonia Gandhi is an incorrigible moderate," the leader argues, adding, "She is queen of status quo. She doesn't give fitting reply to old-style Congressmen when they ask, "hamara raj kab ayega? (When will our rule come?)" She is a gracious lady. She herself has occupied the middle ground of politics and is happy occupant of it."

In the last five years, people of India have not only accepted her, but she has become an icon of India's middle class. For them she is a "Brahmin lady from UP playing upper caste progressive and pragmatic politics."

When one walks into the Congress headquarters, one can smell stale air. Party is stubborn and doesn't want to change. Congressmen are like those Muslims and Arabs in Middle East who still live in past glory of Ottoman and other Islamic empires. These congressmen continue living in bygone golden era of the Congress rule.

In the last five years, they have done nothing to build social base for the party in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Since the last 20 years, Congress is losing the support of community after community.

Congressmen are living in pre-1989 and some are living in pre-1967 period. Some are entrenched into dogmas and are not practical. They have forgotten that in politics one should keep running so that you remain where you are.

Interestingly, the Congress leader, who is quite a good observer of UP politics, says that it is absolutely clear that Congress cannot afford Mayawati [Images] raj in New Delhi.

The Congress can survive a BJP-led government but not Mayawati's government in New Delhi. Outside UP and Bihar, the Congress has three major planks; Dalits, poor and Muslims. If Mayawati comes to power in Centre, her influence will spread outside UP and will affect Congress directly in its roots while BJP government's divisive politics instead of harming Congress will raise people's hope in Congress's secularism.

The Congress surely endorses her (Mayawati) growth as a Dalit woman, but her problem is that she doesn't have necessary political grace to take along political people, he says.

The veteran Congressman also said that if alliances with the Samajwadi Party in UP, Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar remain, Congress will get 150 seats, plus or minus ten.

But, without any alliances Congress will find difficult to touch even 100 seats. He agrees with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee [Images] that Third Front is like Holy Roman Empire, it is neither holy nor Roman nor empire. He says that Third Front is a facade built by Left parties to keep themselves relevant. Left parties want to remain in position from where they can dictate agenda.

Asked about the future of India's relations with the United States if and when CPM and other Left parties are needed to provide support to form the new government, he says, "Where is the need for CPM when Obama [Images] is here?"

What he means that since Obama's arrival, Indo-US relations have been sliding and there is nothing on the agenda that can invite ire of Left parties. So, the incoming prime minister of any party will not have any hesitation to agree to the conditions of Left on this issue in return for support to the government.

With pain in his voice, he said the Congress is like the king of an old sprawling palace. The old glory has waned. The furniture is brought on rent, things are begged or borrowed. But, nobody wants to leave the luxury of a palace. Regional parties, who supply 'materials', are taking their pound of flesh at the time of election from congressmen so that they can continue having fun while living in the palace.

It is unfortunate that national parties don't have nationwide wavelength. The reputation of four-six party leaders at the top means nothing for serious politics. He dismissed L K Advani [Images] as yesterday's man. The fact is that National Democratic Alliance, UPA and Third Front are having internal fights and people are witnessing the ego-clashes of their leaders.

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